Pinstripe Preview: Starting Pitching

The first in a five-installment series of previews on the 2019 Yankees, today we preview the projected Starting Rotation.

Seen as perhaps the biggest reason as to why the Yankees haven’t nabbed a 28th World Series ring over the past few years, this year’s starting rotation should be an upgrade. Three of the five in the rotation are mainstays in Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka. Add onto that JA Happ who was a fantastic trade deadline acquisition in 2018 and was later re-signed this offseason and James Paxton, brought over from the Mariners this offseason.


Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Severino was arguably the best pitcher in the AL for the first half of 2018 and was a leading candidate to be the starter for the AL in the All-Star Game. His second half pointed to many of fans’ worries about Sevy and whether he can stay consistent enough to be an ace. Still just 25 years old, Severino still has plenty of room to grow and evolve. Ranked eighth by MLB Network for top starting pitchers in baseball right now, his 2018 struggles in the second half of the season seemed to be from tipping pitches. He’s been an All-Star and finished top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in back-to-back seasons after a miserable 2016 season. His 5.83 ERA that season led to getting sent to the bullpen and even demoted to Triple-A. Severino’s done a great job in re-establishing himself as one of the best young pitchers in baseball since then, but if he wants to be considered a top-flight starter, he must show more consistency in 2019. He’ll begin the season on the Injured List, and potentially miss multiple starts, as he was scratched from a Spring Training outing due to right shoulder inflammation.

Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t been an ace-like pitcher since 2016, but he’s still been an effective pitcher other than a large part of 2017 in which he got decimated in nearly every start. Tanaka also doesn’t have to be the ace anymore and now is likely the fourth option in the rotation. Despite the seemingly ticking time bomb in his elbow that’s bound to require Tommy John Surgery at any moment, he’s still given the Yanks at least 150 innings in each of the last four seasons. Tanaka’s had large success in the postseason as well, adding to his value. Across 27 starts last season, Tanaka averaged 5.77 innings per outing and bounced back to hit his career-average of a 116 ERA+. If Tanaka can continue his above-average regular season performance combined with the excellence in the postseason, it’ll prove he’s been well-worth that large contract he got coming from Japan, despite not developing into an ace.


Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

For a season or two, it seemed CC Sabathia’s career was on a very sharp decline. Since then though, Sabathia has done a phenomenal job in revitalizing the end part of his career and has become an above-average pitcher despite his loss of power and velocity. From 2013-2015, Sabathia pitched 424.1 innings for a 4.81 ERA. Those three seasons were the three highest seasons he’s had for WHIP and ERA+. From 2016-2018, the past three seasons, Sabathia’s been a much different pitcher, part of it being the development of his cutter. Across this recent span, he’s stayed mostly healthy, lasting 481.1 IP for an above-average 3.76 ERA. Durability continues to be one of his biggest assets, as he’s given the Yankees at least 27 starts every season since 2009, other than 2014. With it being Sabathia’s last season, a World Series would be an ideal sendoff and he’ll play an integral part in whether they win it or not.

Some Yankee fans were critical of the deadline move last year to acquire JA Happ, not because he’s an ineffective pitcher but because the team needed another ace-like pitcher. Happ was seen to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher and give the starting pitching better depth. His 2018 tenure in the Bronx was as good as someone could’ve asked for and bringing him back was a necessary move. The only gripe one could have was his lone postseason start was horrible. He lasted just two innings against the eventual World Series champion Red Sox, allowing four hits and five runs (all earned) and basically putting the Yanks out of the game early. Across 11 regular season starts though, Happ was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA and a 1.63 ERA+, accumulating a 2.1 WAR. Happ was one of the better pitchers in baseball during that span.

James Paxton is the wildcard of the Yankees starting rotation for the 2019 season. If he can stay healthy and pitch to his potential, the Yanks can suddenly match up with any rotation in baseball headed by a lethal duo of Severino and Paxton. Paxton reached career-highs in IP and games started in 2018 with 28 starts across 160.1 IP. Although a step of progression, that’s still not quite the amount of innings and outings one should want from a top-two starter in the rotation. His 2017 season was seemingly the best to this point in his career, as he had a career-best in ERA (2.98), wins (12), FIP (2.61), and ERA+ (140). Paxton is known to have great stuff, as he had an impressive 208 strikeouts last season. His 11.7 K/9 would’ve ranked fourth across all the majors had he qualified and met the innings limit requirement. Paxton should be a welcome upgrade to the Yanks rotation and will compete with Severino as the team’s best pitcher.


Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
SP to watch: Jordan Montgomery
This is a guy that when he returns, suddenly makes the starting rotation depth a strength of the team. With the set-five along with Montgomery and Jonathan Loaisiga, who enjoyed some phenomenal outings in 2018, there’s seven legitimate starters. Montgomery’s impressive rookie season was overshadowed by the historic season from fellow rookie Aaron Judge. He pitched to a 9-7 record with a 3.88 ERA in that 2017 season across 155.1 innings. Montgomery had similar numbers (2-0, 3.62 ERA) in the start of 2018 through six starts before having to undergo Tommy John Surgery. It’s unclear as to when Montgomery will be fully ready and healthy to return to the big leagues, but he’ll be a helpful return to the team. It’s been said that he’s aiming for a return in June, but August is a more realistic month to return coming off TJS. Although he’s not a front-of-the-line guy, his presence makes the depth that much better, especially in the scenario of an injury.

All stats from Baseball Reference.

Article by: Spencer Schultz

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